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Basil Restaurant: A Pan-Asian Paradise

I’ll cut to the chase.  Here’s what I love about the food at Basil Restaurant: it’s fast, it’s cheap, it’s tasty, and it’s diverse.  For the law student on a budget, you really can’t ask for much more.

Basil is a relative newcomer to the well-established Asian food scene in New Haven, but it is, at least in my opinion, a welcome addition.  Let’s be clear – we’re not talking about fine dining here.  If you’re looking for a more upscale or gourmet place to enjoy Chinese, Japanese, Thai, or Malaysian cuisine, you should head to one of the pricier restaurants in the Have (e.g., Kudeta, Miso, and Bentara).  But we’re also not talking about some greasy spoon with food that would only pass as edible when you’ve got $5 in your pocket and a bad case of the 2am munchies.  Basil hits the sweet spot of providing an insanely wide array of perfectly delicious, fresh food at affordable prices in a clean and neat environment.

Let’s start with the menu, which shows why Basil is truly a Pan-Asian paradise with something for everyone.  There are over 180 items on Basil’s menu, which spans the cuisines of China, Japan, Indonesia, Thailand, and Malaysia.  Entrée categories range from stir-fried noodles and chow fun to yaki udon to Thai-style curries to noodle soups to a variety of specials and dishes served over rice.  Almost everything can be made with your choice of noodle (chow fun, rice noodle, Cantonese noodle, lo mein, udon, wide egg noodle, or glass noodle), rice (white or brown), or protein (tofu, chicken, beef, pork, or shrimp), allowing for seemingly endless combinations.  And most entrees are moderately priced between $4.50 and $7.95, with the average entrée coming in at around $6.50.  Specials like the beef rendang casserole or the ½ roast duck are the priciest items on the menu and will set you back $13.95.

What I love most about Basil is the selection of appetizers – scallion pancake, steamed or pan-fried dumplings, pork shumai, turnip cake, vegetable spring rolls, chicken satay, and (my personal favorite!) roti canai, among others.  Grab a few friends and order a few of these small plates, from $2.95 to $5.50, and you’ve got a great weekend dim sum experience.

And of course, to round out the menu, in addition to staples like Thai iced tea and coffee (also moderately priced at $1.95), Basil offers 23 different kinds of boba tea, from the milky to the fruity, at $2.95 each, with the option to add toppings such as yogurt popping boba, mixed fruit jelly, or coffee jelly for an extra $0.50.

On my most recent visit to Basil, I started off with the roast pork bun appetizer (a pair of buns for $3.25) and, given the name of the restaurant, I thought it only appropriate to order the basil chicken (with brown rice) for my entrée.

The food at Basil always comes out fast and piping hot, and this visit was no exception.  My pork buns came out steaming hot in their little metal steam basket – too hot to handle, actually, and it took some serious willpower to wait for them to cool down enough for me to grab and open them up.  Fortunately, it was worth the wait.  The pork buns were white and plump and pillowy, with a slightly chewy exterior and a super soft and doughy interior.  They were filled with a modest amount of sweet, tender, bbq roast pork – we’re not talking bursting at the seams with filling here, just the right amount to complement the bun (which had a great, almost buttery flavor) but not overshadow it.  My kind of comfort food.

 

As I was savoring the last few bites of my first pork bun, a steaming plate of basil chicken with a mound of brown rice appeared before me.  Thin slices of white meat chicken, carrots, broccoli, mushrooms, and onions – all nicely seared and caramelized – came together with sweet, minty Thai basil in a savory sauce.  The ingredients were fresh, the vegetables weren’t cooked to death and still maintained their color and crispness, and the dish wasn’t greasy or drowning in sauce, as is often the case at cheap noodle houses.

 

With my entrée costing just $6.50, my total with tax came to a mere $10.37.  And with Basil’s generous portions and my limited stomach capacity, I even had a decent amount left over for my next meal.  WIN.

Some of the other appetizers I’d recommend at Basil are the roti canai (a must-order!) and the scallion pancake.  Roti canai is a circular Indonesian/Malasian flatbread that is usually made with ghee (clarified butter), brushed with oil and then grilled on a flat top and served with a curry dipping sauce.  Basil’s roti canai – the most affordable appetizer at $2.95 – is hot, flaky, and buttery, and the coconot curry sauce is mildly spicy with delicious, small chunks of potato.  It’s so good, you’ll want to skip the sharing and have one all to yourself.

The scallion pancake ($3.50), served with a soy dipping sauce, is another cheap but very satisfying appetizer.  Basil’s version is super crispy on the outside with layers of chewy goodness on the inside and a delicate onion flavor throughout.

On the entrée side, my husband, a spice fanatic, has enjoyed the curry tofu noodle soup ($5.95) – a deep cauldron of spicy red broth infused with lemongrass and overflowing with chunks of fried tofu, bok choy, broccoli, and your choice of noodles (his preference: glass noodle).

For those with a less adventurous palate, try the shredded pork yaki udon ($6.95) – a heaping skillet of thick udon noodles stir-fried with thin slices of lean pork, cabbage, carrot, and scallions in a light sauce that’s slightly sweet and salty.

So when you and your law school crew are craving Asian but can’t decide on Chinese, Japanese, Thai, or Malaysian, or if you’re just looking for a super quick, hot, and tasty meal between classes, head to Basil just a few blocks from the Law School.  Your wallet (and your palate) will thank you!

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